Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 83 C 4745 -- Paul E. Plunkett, Judge.
Cudahy, Easterbrook and Ripple, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiffs-appellants Edward Viens and Joseph Perruquet are inmates in the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois. On the morning of January 17, 1983, officials at Stateville discovered two makeshift ladders against the prison's outer wall. A count of inmates revealed that no one had actually escaped; the escape attempt had been abandoned for unknown reasons. That same morning, Perruquet reported to the prison infirmary with a fractured left foot and strained ligaments in his right foot; he claimed that he had sustained the injuries in a fall down a flight of stairs. Viens stated that he had been walking down the stairs ahead of Perruquet and had turned to see Perruquet falling.
An investigative report prepared by prison staff concluded that Perruquet had attempted to escape, with Viens' assistance. This finding was based primarily on the statements of inmate Daniel Slaughter that Perruquet had confessed his own responsibility for, and Viens' complicity in, the attempted escape. The report also relied on the opinion of Perruquet's doctor that Perruquet's injuries could not have been caused in the manner he claimed. Both plaintiffs denied any involvement in the attempted escape. Neither Viens nor Perruquet agreed to submit to a polygraph examination; however, Slaughter was examined, and tested truthful to all questions.
In early May, 1983, Perruquet and Viens received disciplinary reports charging them with attempting escape and aiding an attempted escape, respectively. Both men appeared before the prison's Adjustment Committee a week later. The committee denied Viens' and Perruquet's requests that certain witnesses be called, and that they be given an opportunity to examine the physical evidence. Instead of hearing live testimony, the committee based its finding of guilt entirely on the report of the internal investigation, which recounted the results of interviews with Slaughter and Perruquet's physician, and the report of Slaughter's polygraph examination. Based on the guilty finding, the Adjustment Committee revoked 360 days of each plaintiffs' good time credits, ordered plaintiffs placed in disciplinary segregation for 360 days and demoted the plaintiffs from "A" grade to "C" grade for 360 days.
Viens and Perruquet filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 on July 21, 1983. They sought the following relief: a declaration that the defendants' conduct was unconstitutional; return to the general prison population from disciplinary segregation; return to their jobs, with back pay; and compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiffs did not seek restoration of good time. Over the next four years, defendants filed a motion to dismiss and answers to plaintiffs' initial and amended complaints. None of the defendants' papers raised plaintiffs' failure to exhaust state remedies as an affirmative defense. On February 4, 1987, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on some of plaintiffs' claims, including the allegation that the Adjustment Committee had imposed discipline without sufficient evidence.
The parties then filed their final pretrial order with respect to plaintiffs' remaining claims; once again, defendants did not raise any exhaustion issue. A trial of plaintiffs' claims began on October 5, 1987, but was aborted due to logistical problems involving plaintiffs' presence in the courtroom. The case was rescheduled for trial on May 16, 1988. In the interim, defendants filed a second summary judgment motion; again no exhaustion issue was raised. On the day the second trial was scheduled to begin, five years after the commencement of the action, the trial court raised the exhaustion issue sua sponte. After briefing, it ruled that under this court's decision in Hanson v. Heckel, 791 F.2d 93 (7th Cir. 1986), the plaintiffs were required to exhaust state remedies before proceeding with their section 1983 claim. The court therefore dismissed the action. Plaintiffs appeal the district court's dismissal and the summary judgment on their sufficiency of the evidence claim.
Although exhaustion of state remedies is not generally required under section 1983, the district court held that exhaustion was required here because a judgment for plaintiffs would act as collateral estoppel in a later habeas corpus proceeding seeking restoration of good time. The federal habeas statute, 28 U.S.C. section 2254, requires exhaustion of state remedies. The district court believed that section 2254's policy of giving state courts the first opportunity to rule on matters affecting the duration of a state prisoner's confinement would be undermined if a prisoner were allowed to bring a section 1983 damages action without first applying to state court. The plaintiff could then use a favorable federal judgment as a basis of collateral estoppel in a state habeas action seeking the actual restoration of good time. In the case before us, however, the Adjustment Committee, as the outcome of the hearings challenged here, imposed substantial discipline on the plaintiffs apart from the revocation of good time. In these circumstances, exhaustion of state remedies should not be a prerequisite to filing a section 1983 suit; we therefore reverse the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' otherwise viable section 1983 claims.
The Supreme Court first discussed the relationship of sections 2254 and 1983 in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 36 L. Ed. 2d 439, 93 S. Ct. 1827 (1973). In Preiser, three state prisoners whose good-time credits had been revoked for disciplinary infractions brought section 1983 actions claiming that the credits had been denied without due process of law. All three prisoners sought injunctive relief ordering prison authorities to restore the good-time credits. None of the prisoners had exhausted his state remedies prior to filing suit in federal court.
The Supreme Court held that the prisoners could not sue under section 1983, which contains no exhaustion requirement, despite the fact that their suits fell within the literal terms of that statute. The Court noted that habeas corpus was the traditional remedy where a prisoner sought "to secure release from illegal custody," id. at 484; therefore, section 2254, with its exhaustion requirement, provided a specific federal remedy for the injuries the prisoners had allegedly suffered and displaced any remedy they may have had under section 1983. "[W]hen a prisoner is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate release or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 500.
In support of their position that exhaustion should not be required, the prisoners in Preiser noted that sections 1983 and 2254 are not identical -- specifically, money damages are available under section 1983 but not in a habeas action. Based on this difference they argued that a section 1983 suit should not be dismissed simply because the constitutional violation alleged could also form the basis of a habeas corpus action. In response, the Court noted that the crucial issue was not whether the facts alleged could form the basis for both a section 1983 and a habeas claim; instead, the distinguishing feature between a section 1983 action and a habeas petition was the relief requested.
[R]espondents here sought no damages, but only equitable relief -- restoration of their good-time credits -- and our holding today is limited to that situation. If a state prisoner is seeking damages, he is attacking something other than the fact or length of his confinement, and he is seeking something other than immediate or more speedy release -- the traditional purpose of habeas corpus. In the case of a damages claim, habeas corpus is not an appropriate or available federal remedy. Accordingly, . . . a damages action by a ...